MIAMI — Malaysia Airlines is facing privatization after its majority investor, Khazanah Nasional, announced intentions to restructure the embattled carrier on Friday. The plan will ultimately privatize the airline, which has been financially reeling following two fatal air disasters in less than six months.
Malaysia Airlines (MAS) confirmed that the state-run Khazanah is moving to offer 27 sen ($.08 cents USD) per share in a planned buy-out of minority investors. The move, valued at nearly $500 million US, would increase the sovereign wealth fund’s control of the airline from its current 69% to a full 100%. Once the buy-out is complete, Khazanah will de-list the carrier from the Malaysian stock exchange, thereby privatizing it.
Private ownership will allow the embattled carrier greater flexibility to deploy a top to bottom restructuring plan. While Khazanah says it will release details in the coming weeks, significant layoffs, fleet and routes changes are almost certainly in the offing.
The carrier has struggled mightily since March 8th, when Malaysia Airlines flight 370 disappeared without a trace while en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. The incident, which is presumed to have killed all 239 aboard, caused consumer confidence in the carrier to plummet and led to a substantial drop in load factors. It also sent MAS’s stock value sliding down 40% from pre-disaster prices, bottoming out in mid-May at .15 sen. Then, three weeks ago, flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 on board.
The dual crashes, however, merely intensified an already poor financial situation for MAS. Despite numerous service accolades, including a coveted five-star rating, the carrier has recorded losses for the past three years. It has been seeking to cut costs in the face of pressure from other carriers in the region, on both the top end of the market – Singapore – and booming regional low-cost carriers such as AirAsiaX.
The lackluster performance forced the airline to shutter a handful of prominent but under-performing routes, including Kuala Lumpur to Johannesburg and Los Angeles, as part of a turnaround plan set underway in 2013. Even historically, however, MAS has seen its share of financial struggles. It has needed a government bailout on at least one occasion, and has recorded a number of heavy losses since its inception in 1946.